By Sandra Schulman
The main draw of Miami Art Week has been the Art Basel Miami Fair at Miami Beach’s sleek and spacious new convention center.
The doors blew open Wednesday morning for a preview look. The improved layout is pretty grand, with two open living room lobby areas for sitting and regrouping. Some of the biggest-name booths sit around these areas, making it easy to find them and their fair offerings.
I always hit up 303 Gallery, which recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, and this year they have an artist, Jeppe Hein, ready to debut a major new permanent installation in the newly renovated Rosemary Square in West Palm Beach. The Danish artist was at the unveiling of his Water Pavilion on Friday night; the interactive fountain rises and falls in patterns of rooms that viewers can walk through.
I interned at Metro Pictures in college and it’s a thrill to see they still rep some of the same artists, like self-portrait pioneer Cindy Sherman who has two large-scale tapestries on display this year; and Robert Longo, whose huge realistic charcoal works are a marvel of technique.
Taking advantage of the huge new convention center space, an escalator at one end of the main floor leads up to a new 60,374-square-foot ballroom. Up there is a new sector called Meridians with large-scale sculpture, painting, installation, film and performance work organized by curator Magalí Arriola.
My two favorites were a restaging of the American artist Portia Munson’s 1996 installation The Garden, of a woman’s bedroom packed with so many pink objects and femininity that it becomes claustrophobic. Miami Beach’s gritty glory days of the 1990s are recalled in a superb installation called Varla TV by Miami artist Pepe Mar. With paintings, sculpture and screened images he honors the late Craig Coleman, who went by the drag name Varla, a multi-disciplinary artist who made his name in both NYC and Miami Beach through his art and performances.
Over in the corner is something I first thought was an installation but is actually a pop-up of the venerable Joe’s Stone Crab restaurant, with an hourlong waiting list and $13 slices of Key lime pie. That’s a bargain compared to the $120,000 banana taped to a wall from Maurizio Cattelan being sold downstairs. They had sold three bananas by the end of the day.
Leaving the convention center for some fresh air, I walked along Lincoln Road to take in the 14 monumental bronze sculptures by world-renowned Colombian artist Fernando Botero, presented by the Nader Art Museum. These heavyweight (pun intended) pieces look happy frolicking in the nude along this busy public stretch, their deep bronzed tans gleaming in the sun.
From there I headed to the most buzzed-about free public art installation, Order of Importance, on the actual sand at 17th Street beach. This amusing, amazing new site-specific installation is by Argentinean conceptual artist Leandro Erlich and curated by Ximena Caminos. It will be on the beach until Dec. 15, and consists of 66 life-sized sculptures of cars and trucks lined up bumper to bumper complete with guardrails. Made of a sand-colored concrete, the autos rise and fall end to end. A clever STOP sign announces the work.
At a press conference Erlich said “I give you a traffic jam, and I promise you a traffic jam out there in the future.” Thanks Leandro, we know that very well.
Shaking the sand out of my shoes, a short walk away at The Bass is a superfly groovy installation by sensation Mickalene Thomas, one of America’s most prolific and important artists. Her latest project, Better Nights, is a soul-charged celebration of black legacy as she transforms a 4-room section of the museum into a 1970s childhood living room, where Thomas’s mother threw parties to fund-raise for her and her friends’ theater projects.
This restaging has parquet floors, wood paneling, floral upholstery and patterned wallpaper with art by fellow black artists. The rooms mirror her quilted art in a way HGTV would never stage. There is a wild mirrored disco bar at the far end that will host live performances and concerts by musicians including Jody Watley and Devin Tracy.
I also loved the swirling giant carwash brushes called Gummo IV by Italian artist Lara Favaretto. The color and motion of these big brushes causes a rush of air in the room and passing through them is a bizarre but giddy experience.
The Bass has a few artworks in Collins Park, the most clever being the thousands of small colored rocks that mimic the huge Miami Mountain sculpture by Ugo Rondinone. You can recreate his totem or make a new piece of your own, because art is what you make of it.